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'Architectural gem': Locals hope Multnomah County Courthouse preserved after sale

Multnomah County Courthouse - KATU photo

Structural updates to the century-old Multnomah County Courthouse would have cost millions of dollars to fix, so construction is underway for a brand-new building.

However, this means the old courthouse, an impressive architectural gem, is now up for sale.

"I have mixed emotions on it because I really love the building. The structure, and the architecture's just beautiful in here. Over the years, there's been a lot of modifications to it," Mike Crank, facilities property manager, said.

He shakes a brick deep inside its walls.

“You can see some stability needs to take place on this one,” he said.

In another spot, a brick is jammed between a supporting beam.

"This is how they did things in the olden days. 'Oh, this will hold it up!' So they just left the bricks behind -- no bracing or strapping,” Crank said. "Those are what everyone's concerned with -- with the earthquake -- if it shakes. Those are going to vibrate lose and come down through the ceilings.”

Construction started in 1909, and it was completed in 1914.

"You can just see how grand they are and how authoritarian they are," Crank said while touring the building. "It would have been amazing to see some of the court cases that went on here."

The building has seen its fair share of history as well. Women registered to vote there for the first time in April 1913. Minoru Yasui, a lawyer of Japanese descent, was jailed in a seventh-floor cell for nine months. He was arrested for breaking curfew in order to challenge the federal government for its horrid discrimination after Pearl Harbor.

And in 1979, an estranged husband shot and injured his wife, and killed her lawyer, inside a courtroom.

A KATU reporter at the time reported: “Ernest McClain walked through these courthouse doors with a loaded gun, no questions asked."

The tragedy forever changed court security.

Peggy Moretti with Restore Oregon said the courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Preservation, is on their endangered places list.

"Obviously, demolition would be the worst-case scenario and a terrible loss. But I think other things that concern us is that there would be insufficient county and city support. With the right level of incentives and cooperation and help for a developer to come in and put the investment into it … that needs to happen," she said.

Crank says he hasn't heard of any interested investors who would want to raze it.

"I hope that's not going to happen with it," Crank said. "I doubt it is. The potential buyers we've been talking to have great ideas, possibly turning it into a hotel or business. There's a variety of ideas that are coming forward with it."

It will be a couple years before he has the new courthouse to look after.

Until then, he'll enjoy managing the challenges that come along with the historic courthouse.

If you'd like to submit a comment on the future of the courthouse, click here.

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